The New Orleans Saints lost their head coach on Tuesday, and that might only be the start.
Sean Payton's decision to step down is just one of many potentially significant changes that could be ahead for New Orleans, a team that finds itself without a starting quarterback and in a massive financial hole entering 2022. The franchise is currently $74 million over the salary cap for the 2022 season -- $34 million more than the next closest team, per Over The Cap -- and there isn't a clear path to the surface.
The bright side: There's no better time than now for the Saints to launch a rebuild. General manager Mickey Loomis will be tasked with finding Payton's replacement while also digging New Orleans out of an avalanche of void years and bloated contracts (they'll carry millions in dead money next season from guys who didn't even take a snap for them this season) that have the franchise's ledger full of red.
To get this process underway in earnest, the Saints may have to trade some of their high-priced stars; the guys who not only have the biggest cap imprint but carry the most market value. If New Orleans opts to rip off the Band-Aid in Year 1 with its new coach, it will likely look to shed a ton of salary while acquiring as much draft capital as possible. This means contenders around the NFL looking to fill roster holes might be able to obtain Pro Bowlers at perhaps bargain prices.
Now, I'm certainly not suggesting the Saints will move all of these players. They may choose to restructure several contracts, allowing them to keep their most talented guys while kicking the hefty cap hits down the road into future years. But that's essentially how the organization got itself into this mess in the first place. So while we may certainly see some restructured deals in the coming months, it's reasonable to also expect the Saints to move on from one or more notable players this offseason. Simply put, if a rebuild is the plan, they're going to have to turn over every rock to clear space and gather draft assets.
With all of that in mind, here are 10 current Saints who could be headed to a new team this offseason.
NOTE: I've differentiated between the timing of potential moves below, because their designations have an impact on how much money the Saints can clear from their cap overage. In some cases, trading a player after June 1 could net more than $10 million in savings. All salary figures are sourced from Over The Cap. All ages denote how old the player will be at the start of the 2022 season.
- 2022 cap number: $24.7 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade/release): $22.7 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade/release): $15.8 million
Thomas currently stands as the fifth-highest paid receiver in terms of average annual salary at $19.25 million, but he's spent much of the last two seasons sitting out. Of a possible 33 games, Thomas has played in just seven, catching 40 passes for 438 yards in 2020. He simply hasn't been available enough to come close to justifying his significant salary, and the Saints are in no position to carry such a cap number for a player who can't stay on the field -- no matter how excellent Thomas was in 2018 and '19. If the Saints choose to start anew, Thomas could be one of the first players Loomis looks to move.
Potential buyers: New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars.
- 2022 cap number: $23.18 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade/release): $21.44 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade/release): $15 million
Jordan has been a pillar in New Orleans since the franchise selected him 24th overall in 2011, and he's assembled a career worthy of induction into the team's ring of honor (107 career sacks, seven Pro Bowls, one first-team All-Pro). Parting with him might be agonizing for both sides, but not as painful as keeping his 2022 cap number on the books. New Orleans would clear $15 million by trading him with a post-June 1 designation, and could get a decent haul in return, considering he's still an effective player (12.5 sacks in 2021).
Potential buyers: Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars.
- 2022 cap number: $12.325 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 release): $19 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade): $8.9 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via release): $0
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade): $10.1 million
A favorite of Payton, the versatile veteran might be deemed expendable by whoever takes over in New Orleans. Hill is a below-average passer set to earn high-end QB2 money, whose greatest strength is his running ability. And while we're seeing more designed runs for quarterbacks these days, it's unclear whether the new regime will view his playmaking value in line with his salary. That all said, finding a trade partner for Hill might be particularly challenging.
Potential buyers: Las Vegas Raiders, Washington Football Team, Pittsburgh Steelers.
- 2022 cap number: $11 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade/release): $10.5 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade/release): $7.5 million
Davis has been an essential part of New Orleans' stingy defense since signing as a free agent in 2018, and his exit is going to come sooner than later primarily due to age. The 33-year-old still carries esteem as an experienced veteran capable of leading a defense, so the Saints could get legitimate value for him. His contract isn't as difficult to move as others' on this list -- the Saints just don't have room for it. If New Orleans wants Davis to retire a Saint, then a restructure is certainly a possible option.
Potential buyers: Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos.
- 2022 cap number: $14.5 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 release): $20.5 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade): $9 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via release): $0
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade): $11.5 million
New Orleans backed up the Brink's truck to Kamara's doorstep in 2020, signing him to a five-year extension that pays him the team's fifth-highest average annual salary at $15 million. He's another integral part of the Saints' core, and unlike Thomas, he's proven to be worth the new money. But that doesn't mean he's untouchable, especially if the franchise commits to a total rebuild. Losing Kamara would be equal to taking the wheels off a vehicle, but the Saints are in dire straits here. Kamara is another candidate for a restructure, which Over The Cap estimates could save New Orleans up to $7.8 million in 2022 -- not too far off the total the Saints would save via a post-June 1 trade. And if they do trade him, they can bank on getting a nice haul in return.
Potential buyers: New York Jets, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks.
- 2022 cap number: $15.45 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 release): $24.65 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade): $13.8 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via release): $0
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade): $10.85 million
I'm never a fan of shipping away decent offensive linemen, especially for a franchise that doesn't have its quarterback situation figured out, but Peat hasn't been all that great the last few years. New Orleans is also staring at the real possibility of Terron Armstead walking in free agency; losing Peat would only double the damage done up front. The Saints could clear much of his 2022 cap total via a post-June 1 trade. Then again, Peat might not be worth the money for a potential trade partner, especially if his Pro Football Focus grade (52.1 in 2021) and lack of availability (missed 11 games this past season; has never logged a full campaign) are taken into account. I could certainly see both sides open to restructuring his deal to provide some cap relief.
Potential buyers: Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets.
- 2022 cap number: $13.17 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade/release): $9.34 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade/release): $8.5 million
A lesser-known but important contributor, Onyemata restructured his contract last March to help the Saints with their 2021 cap problem. To address his 2022 cap figure, the team could outright release him or, more likely, either offer him an extension or attempt to trade him. If the Saints don't think they can recoup enough value for him in a trade, then working out a new deal for PFF's ninth-highest-graded D-lineman would make the most sense -- financially and competitively.
Potential buyers: Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans.
- 2022 cap number: $11.7 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade/release): $7.9 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade/release): $7.75 million
Jenkins returned to New Orleans with the hopes of pursuing another title, but a revolving door at quarterback prevented those goals from coming to fruition. The Saints can comfortably move on from Jenkins, who's signed through 2023, knowing two of their other safeties graded out better than the grizzled veteran -- even if his replacement, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, was slightly worse, per PFF. New Orleans' existing creativity would be limited with Gardner-Johnson, but that's not enough of a reason to carry Jenkins' $11.7 million cap figure. A team in need of veteran leadership might be interested in acquiring the 34-year-old, but with no guaranteed salary remaining, an outright release could be in the cards.
Potential buyers: Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins.
- 2022 cap number: $10.169 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade/release): $677,900
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade/release): $10 million
Roby seems like a player the Saints would like to keep around after a decent first season in New Orleans, but he's another likely cap casualty because his contract makes it too easy for the Saints to move on rather quickly. New Orleans would carry less than $1 million in dead cap with an early trade or release, and would clear almost all of his cap number in a post-June 1 move. Meanwhile, a restructure would net them just $6.6 million, per Over The Cap estimates. Roby's deal is the rare case of void years causing minimal damage, and with two players already slotted ahead of him in the Saints' secondary, this appears to be a pretty straightforward decision for the team.
Potential buyers: Las Vegas Raiders, Seattle Seahawks, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots.
- 2022 cap number: $5.57 million
- 2022 dead cap number (via pre-June 1 trade/release): $3.84 million
- Post-June 1 cap savings in 2022 (via trade/release): $3.65 million
Look, there's no reason to carry a kicker for more than $5 million in cap space unless that kicker is named Justin Tucker. The Saints won't clear Lutz's entire cap number by moving on from the 2019 Pro Bowler, but they may find a few interested suitors willing to part with draft picks. As we learned in the Divisional Round, it's worth investing in a reliable kicker if you have the cap space to do so. The Saints, unfortunately, do not.
Potential buyers: Everyone in need of a reliable kicker.